Stress is a word that has become more common in the last decade, but especially prevalent after the pandemic years we have had. It is a word commonly thrown around on social media, by health care providers, and news articles; it may even have come up in conversations with friends and family. Despite this word being used in menial and seemingly random settings, long term stress can have a detrimental effect on your body, both physically and mentally.
Stress can have multiple meanings, both positive and negative. Working out is a type of physical stress to the body that is considered positive. Mental or emotional stress is a state of mental strain or tension, usually occurring after the brain perceives a threat of some sort. The stress response is the physiological reaction that occurs after the threat has been perceived.
The stress response consists of multiple stages yet occurs faster than the conscious brain can register. Once a threat has been discovered, usually via ears or eyes, the amygdala (a part of your brain that is important in the emotional processing) sends a distress signal to a part of your brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is like a command center and makes sure the rest of the body has the capacity for fight or flight. Through a cascade of events, your body gets primed to just that: fight or flight. Some of the physiological reactions that occurs include increased heart rate and respiratory rate, increased blood pressure, gastrointestinal slow down, decreased resilience, increased alertness, decreased activation of small stabilizing muscles and increased activation of bigger muscles. If you are interested in read a more in-depth article of what those neuro-hormonal event are, check out this link from Harvard.
These responses are appropriate and should happen. They keep us alive when there are serious threats around, such as being chased by bears or burglars. The issues arise when the stress becomes long term and chronic. Long term stress has been associated with increased prevalence of addiction, anxiety, depression and irritability, memory and attention problems, tight and sore big muscles, increased pain, and increased inflammation. After a stressful event, your brain wiring changes and it creates a cascade effect. Sometimes all you need is a potential stressor; your brain will perceive this as an actual threat and the whole cascade of neurohormonal changes is set off. Stress is cumulative, and it builds up over time.
There are multiple ways to counter the stress response and calm your nervous system down. These include:
- Relaxation techniques: yoga, prayer, meditation, tai chi, abdominal breathing
- Physical activity: exercise, yoga, tai chi, running, walking
- Social: someone to talk to, to confide in, counsellor, physical touch
The pain aspect is a fascinating one. Stress can literally cause pain. Stay tuned for next month’s newsletter for an in-depth article on how pain and stress affect one another.
How to apply the brain model of chiropractic in practice. Webinar hosted by Haavik and Buerger.